The high-flying Penrith Panthers head to the nation’s capital to tackle an inconsistent Canberra Raiders side desperate to land a killer-blow to a heavyweight contender.
Previously somewhat under the radar, the Panthers are now longer keeping their head below the parapet after their 28-2 drubbing of the Dragons two weeks ago and after a bye and with four Origin stars backing up, they’ll face a stiff test from a Canberra side eager to lay down a marker.
Also coming off a bye, the Raiders kept their finals hopes alive with a last-gasp 21-20 win over the Sea Eagles in Round 12 and will be desperate to bank two points at home before a three-game road trip where they face the Tigers, Broncos and Bulldogs.
Penrith’s cadre of New South Wales stars Nathan Cleary, James Maloney, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey have all been named to back up just two days after a bruising 22-12 win in Melbourne, ensuring plenty of star power on hand at a chilly GIO Stadium.
These two sides have a long and storied rivalry dating back to the 1990 and 1991 Grand Finals won by the Raiders and Panthers respectively, and they’ve played out some absolute classics in recent years meaning this clash, despite the not-so-fan-friendly time slot should make for must-watch football.
2017 – Penrith Panthers 26 def. Canberra Raiders 22 at GIO Stadium
2017 – Penrith Panthers 24 def. Canberra Raiders 20 at Carrington Park, Bathurst
2016 – Canberra Raiders 22 def. Penrith Panthers 12 at GIO Stadium
2016 – Penrith Panthers 19 def. Canberra Raiders 18 at Carrington Park, Bathurst
2016 – Canberra Raiders 30 def. Penrith Panthers 22 at GIO Stadium
The Panthers and Raiders have played out a handful of seriously entertaining contests over the last few years, highlighted by a stunning last-gasp Penrith win in Bathurst courtesy of a Peter Wallace field goal or an even more stunning result when Matt Moylan turned on a rare performance to deliver two try assists win the final three minutes to land a 24-20 win at the same regional ground.
The Panthers had trailed by 8 points in the dying minutes before tries to Corey Harawira-Naera and Tyrone Peachey sealed an unlikely win.
Interestingly, the Raiders have played the Panthers more in their storied history than any other club, having met 75 times since the first clash in May 1982.
Penrith won that first clash 27-19 with tries to Des Hasler, Brad Izzard, Royce Simmons, Ken Wolffe and Rod Wright.
|Canberra Raiders||Penrith Pan thers|
|1||Jack Wighton||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|2||Nick Cotric||Christian Crichton|
|3||Jarrod Croker||Tyrone Peachey|
|4||Joey Leilua||Dean Whare|
|5||Jordan Rapana||Tyrone Phillips|
|6||Blake Austin||James Maloney|
|7||Aidan Sezer||Nathan Cleary|
|8||Dunamis Lui||Trent Merrin|
|9||Siliva Havili||Sione Katoa|
|10||Shannon Boyd||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|11||Sia Soliola||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|12||Elliott Whitehead||Isaah Yeo|
|13||Josh Papalii||James Fisher-Harris|
|14||Ata Hingano||Wayde Egan|
|15||Luke Bateman||Kaide Ellis|
|16||Charlie Gubb||Viliame Kikau|
|17||Liam Knight||James Tamou|
|18||Emre Guler||Jarome Luai|
|19||Michael Oldfield||Tyrone May|
|20||Jack Murchie||Tom Eisenhuth|
|21||Craig Garvey||Nick Lui-Toso|
* The Panthers have received an 'additional player exemption' due to State of Origin commitments.
The facts that matter
Fresh from the unveiling of a $19 million centre of excellence to be built in Braddon, the Raiders come into Round 14 desperate to leave a mark on the current pace-setters in the competition and reassert themselves in the race for a top eight berth.
While the new centre of excellence should act as a handy enticement in the recruitment and retention game, right now, the Raiders will need to get the most out of a talented but inconsistent outfit on home soil this week.
Coming off a much-needed close win over Manly before the bye, the Raiders currently sit in tenth place on the competition ladder, four points behind the four sides who sit fifth to eighth and with two of those sides, Melbourne and Brisbane playing each other this weekend, the chance to close the gap comes at a perfect time for Ricky Stuart’s embattled side.
With the Penrith side representing a tightly run ship, the Raiders will need to be on top of their discipline and ensure they limit opportunities for the Panthers to earn cheap yardage. Preventing the visitors from setting the tempo will be paramount for Stuart and his staff this week, with Penrith shown to be vulnerable when time and space is taken away from key playmakers.
Winger Nick Cotric got his first real taste of the Origin atmosphere as an used reserve and will likely have a positive buzz from the experience while Josh Papalii will back up from a good stint for the Maroons.
The Raiders have named an unchanged side from the one that beat Manly two weeks ago with only positional changes made. Papalii shifts to lock with Sia Soliola moving into the back-row.
Forward Dunamis Lui will play his 100th NRL game in a notable sidenote. Lui spent time with the Broncos, Sea Eagles and Dragons before shifting to Canberra.
Canberra are still without Joe Tapine (suspension), Josh Hodgson (knee) and Junior Paulo (foot).
The Panthers blew the previously table-topping Dragons off the park two weeks ago before a much-needed Round 13 bye heading into a busy State of Origin period and Anthony Griffin’s men will be keen to pick up where they left off.
Griffin and Penrith fans everywhere will be hoping key playmakers Nathan Cleary and James Maloney have survived game one of the State of Origin series with no issue while Tyrone Peachey and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are also expected to back up for the Panthers.
Even with their full cast of Origin stars on deck, there will be a big need for others to step up and lead the way. Both overlooked for a return to the New South Wales side, Trent Merrin and James Tamou will want to lay down a marker on Friday night and carry the ball forward with purpose.
Kiwi internationals like Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare will also be expected to perform strongly in the nation’s capital.
While Cleary, Maloney, Peachey and Campbell-Gillard are all named to play this Friday night, captain Peter Wallace remains unavailable through injury. Wallace succumbed to a shoulder injury a couple of weeks back and is still not right to return meaning Sione Katoa will once again start at dummy-half.
Young firebrand Jack Hetherington will once again miss game due to suspension and has been told behind closed doors that he needs to fix his discipline problem if he wants to be a long-term fixture out Penrith way. Hetherington is replaced by Kaide Ellis.
Aside from Wallace and Hetherington, the Panthers still have Josh Mansour, Waqa Blake, Moses Leota, Sam McKendry and Dylan Edwards sitting on the sideline.
State of Origin throws up a few unknowns in this clash with five players backing up from playing time and Nick Cotric also spending time away from the Raiders as a Blues reserve, so there’s every chance conventional wisdom could be thrown out the window.
That said, it’s impossible not to back the Panthers given their recent form and the fact they’ve kept their last two opponents try less works in their favour. Penrith by 12.
Who's going to triumph when the Raiders host the Panthers on Friday night? Let us know in the comments and poll below.